Be Happy. Be Healthy. Be Free.
I was in a box. I was in the “educated-black-girl-must-be-professional-at-all-times” box. I was in the “southern-belle-you-better-not-curse” box. I was in the “Ivy-League-education-you-must-be-smart” box. I had a certain standard to uphold. A certain image to maintain. But, I was tired of trying to live my life within the parameters of these boxes. My boxes were literally starting to suffocate me. And my God, I was ready to break out. Here are three mantras that I incorporated into my daily life to break out of my box and to become my true authentic self:
I. Be Happy
For so long I was looking for happiness. I thought going to a good school and getting a good-paying job would make me happy. I thought finding the man of my dreams and getting married would make happy. But none of these things made me happy because nothing can make you happy. You make yourself happy. Happiness is a choice. It isn’t a destination. It isn’t something that is found in moments of achievement. It isn’t something that is lost in moments of stress or despair. You choose to be content. You choose to let go of anger, frustration and disappointment. Your life is exactly what you want it to be. In the words of Buddha, “What you think you become. What you feel you attract. What you imagine you create.” You have complete control over your life, so if you want to be happy, choose happiness. Then be happy. It sounds simple because it is.
To be happy, you have to define yourself without your boxes. Who are you? If you can’t use anything on your resume, who would you be? If you can’t define yourself with your school, your career or your affiliations, who are you? What do you stand for? What is important to you? What is your character? What is your legacy? What are you creating? What drives you? Are you success-driven? Money-driven? Fame-driven? Or are you happiness-driven? Before you can be comfortable in your skin, you need to know what your skin is. Are you an activist, a creator or a leader? Sit down with yourself and meditate. Get some quiet time. Dream big and figure out who you are, what you want and what happiness means to you.
II. Be Healthy
As you break out of your box, create a life of balance: eat real whole foods, drink enough water, stay active and get enough sleep. They are vital to your overall health. I found my true authentic self in the gym. I started my health journey a little over a year ago, like most women, to lose weight. But what started off as physical journey quickly became much more. I found balance, focus, and discipline.Over time, I slowly changed my eating habits. I switched to eating clean organic foods and I increased my intake of fruits, vegetables, and water. I started drinking green smoothies and juicing. I cut out processed foods, fast foods, soda, and juice. I drastically decreased my intake of dairy and sugar, although I still indulge from time to time. I started going to the gym five times a week and I was enjoying it. I hated the treadmill and still do, so I found an alternative — fitness classes. I’ve done yoga, cycling, Crossfit, pole fitness, barre, aerial yoga, Zumba, weight lifting, and pilates. I don’t think there is a class I haven’t tried. If you are trying to find a fun way to stay active, I encourage you to get out there and try some fitness classes. If being healthy isn’t fun, you won’t stick with it. So try to find something you enjoy.
III. Be Free
Breaking out of your box requires you not to care about what people think about you. You have to be free of judgement. I was raised in the South, and from an early age, I was taught the importance of appearances. Very early on I cared about what others thought — and I cared a lot. Trying to free myself from judgment was a long and hard journey. But practice makes perfect. I began to slowly make decisions that were more consistent with what I actually wanted, and less consistent with what I felt like I was ‘supposed to do.’
For starters, I cut off all my hair and went natural, big chop style. Now, I know that there was a huge natural hair movement that started more than a decade ago in the black community. A movement that I wanted to be a part of, but just couldn’t. I was afraid of how my work colleagues would view my natural mane. I was afraid that I would be labeled as Afrocentric or unprofessional — a fear that stopped me from wearing my hair the way that I wanted. As a matter of fact, a year ago I was wearing a weave and applying for a new job. I asked a mentor to review my resume and give me some advice and tips. After she reviewed my resume, she said, “Another good thing is your hair. That natural hair doesn’t work well here.” Yes, she was judging me. But it honestly didn’t matter. The truth of the matter is that there are people who judged my natural hair, people who judged my permed hair and some who judged my weave. No matter what you do, there is always someone who will have something to say. Always. So just do what feels right in your soul. Don’t worry about people judging you and maybe, just maybe, you will start judging others less.
Fear of judgement is usually a sign of your own judgmental nature. You are so worried about others judging you because you are constantly judging others (and yourself). And let’s be honest, sometimes you need judgement. You need discernment. But you also need balance. And if you are so preoccupied with being judged that you aren’t being your true authentic self, something is out of balance. It might be time to reevaluate. Set yourself free.
Be Happy. Be Healthy. Be Free.
Originally published on Blavity.